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Current Topic: Home and Garden

Why I Came West: A Memoir
Topic: Home and Garden 6:51 am EDT, Jul  8, 2008

Rick Bass:

A passionate memoir about the great divides in Rick Bass's beloved Yaak Valley, the West as a whole, and himself.

A poignant look at the thirty-year journey of one of our country's great naturalist writers,Why I Came West explores how Rick Bass fell in love with the mystique of the West: as a dramatic landscape, as an idea, and as a way of life. Bass grew up in the suburban sprawl of Houston, and after attending college in Utah he spent eight years working in Mississippi as a geologist, until one day he packed up and headed west in search of something visceral, true, and real. He found it in the remote Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, a unique place, neither national park nor government- sanctioned wilderness, where despite extensive logging not a single species has gone extinct since the last Ice Age.

Bass has lived in "the Yaak" ever since and in a series of moving chapters describes his own transformation into the writer, hunter, and environmental activist that he is today. He profiles how the rugged, wild landscape smoothed out his own rough edges; attempts to define the appeal of the West that so transfixed him as a boy, a place of mountains and outlaws and continual rebirth, just beyond whatever was near it; and he describes his role as a reluctant environmental activist—sometimes at odds with his own neighbors—unable and unwilling to stand idly by and watch this treasured place disappear.

Why I Came West: A Memoir

Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents
Topic: Home and Garden 6:51 am EDT, Jul  8, 2008

With plenty of sunscreen and a cold beer swaddled in his sleeping bag, writer and botanist Jim Malusa bicycled alone to the lowest point on each of six continents, a six-year series of “anti-expeditions” to the “anti-summits.” His journeys took him to Lake Eyre in the arid heart of Australia, along Moses’ route to the Dead Sea, and from Moscow to the Caspian Sea. He pedaled across the Andes to Patagonia, around tiny Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and from Tucson to Death Valley. With a scientist’s eye, he vividly observes local landscapes and creatures. As a lone man, he is overfed by grandmothers, courted by ladies of the night in Volgograd, invited into a mosque by Africa’s most feared tribe, chased by sandstorms and hurricanes — yet Malusa keeps riding. His reward: the deep silence of the world’s great depressions. A large-hearted narrative of what happens when a friendly, perceptive American puts himself at the mercy of strange landscapes and their denizens, Into Thick Air presents one of the most talented new voices in contemporary travel writing.

Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents

U.S. Housing: Not Dead Yet, Concludes Harvard Study
Topic: Home and Garden 10:43 pm EDT, Jun 24, 2008

Record foreclosures and limited access to credit will make it harder than usual to rebound from this U.S. housing market slump, the worst at least since World War Two, according to a Harvard University study on Monday.

A two-year home price drop is eating into housing wealth, curbing consumer spending and slicing away economic growth. This is unlikely to change until potential home buyers are convinced that prices have stopped tumbling, the study found.

The downturn has room to run.

U.S. Housing: Not Dead Yet, Concludes Harvard Study

Home Not-So-Sweet Home, and the ownership obsession
Topic: Home and Garden 10:43 pm EDT, Jun 24, 2008

Paul Krugman:

Here’s a question rarely asked, at least in Washington: Why should ever-increasing homeownership be a policy goal? How many people should own homes, anyway?

Although it’s rarely put this way, borrowing to buy a home is like buying stocks on margin: if the market value of the house falls, the buyer can easily lose his or her entire stake.

This isn’t a hypothetical worry.

And now, for your daily Simpsons reference, from "Trash of the Titans":

% Later, in Moe's bar, Homer moans about his problems.

Homer: [melancholy] My campaign is a disaster, Moe.
Homer: [angry] I hate the public so much!
Homer: [melancholy] If only they'd elect me.
Homer: [angry] I'd make 'em pay!
Homer: [melancholy] Aw, Moe, how do I make 'em like me?
Moe: Eh, gee, you're kind of all over the place, Homer, you need to focus here. You gotta...think hard, and come up with a slogan that appeals to all the lazy slobs out there.
Homer: [moans] Can't someone else do it?
Moe: "Can't someone else do it?", that's perfect!
Homer: It is?
Moe: Yeah! Now get out there and spread that message to the people!
Homer: Woo hoo! [walks off]
Moe: Woah, hey, you didn't pay for the beer.
Homer: "Can't someone else do it?"

[Moe and Homer laugh together. As Homer starts to leave the tavern, Moe cocks and points a shotgun at him and clears his throat.]

Moe: Seriously, give me the money.

It's doubly relevant:

In all his speeches, John McCain urges Americans to make sacrifices for a country that is both “an idea and a cause”.

He is not asking them to suffer anything he would not suffer himself.

But many voters would rather not suffer at all.

Home Not-So-Sweet Home, and the ownership obsession

Housing Slump Helps the Draw of Fixer-Upper TV
Topic: Home and Garden 7:07 am EDT, Jun 12, 2008

“People loved comedies during the depression, too,” said R. J. Cutler, executive producer of “Flip That House.”

Housing Slump Helps the Draw of Fixer-Upper TV

London’s Lost Rivers
Topic: Home and Garden 6:24 am EDT, Jun  9, 2008

The easiest pub quiz question in the world: name a river that flows through London. Answer: the Thames. A somewhat more difficult question: name another river that flows through London. A few might know of the river Lee (or Lea) that springs near Leagrave in Bedfordshire and joins the Thames at Leamouth in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. But how about: name a third river that flows through London? And a fourth, a fifth, a sixth?

London’s Lost Rivers

At home on Pablo Escobar's ranch
Topic: Home and Garden 7:05 am EDT, Jun  2, 2008

"This place is really nice and tranquil."

At home on Pablo Escobar's ranch

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (March 2008)
Topic: Home and Garden 7:13 pm EDT, May 29, 2008

Data through March 2008, released today by Standard & Poor’s for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, shows continued broad based declines in the prices of existing single family homes across the United States, a trend that prevailed throughout 2007 and has continued into the first quarter of 2008.

The chart above depicts the annual returns of the U.S. National Home Price, the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite Indices. The decline in the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index – which covers all nine U.S. census divisions – reached well into double digits, recording a 14.1% decline in the 1st quarter of 2008 versus the 1st quarter of 2007, the largest in the series 20-year history. As a comparison, during the 1990-91 housing recession the annual rate bottomed at -2.8%. The 10-City and 20-City Composites also set new records, with annual declines of -15.3% and -14.4%, respectively.

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (March 2008)

Housing Bust Continues
Topic: Home and Garden 8:15 am EDT, May 28, 2008

The latest figures on housing offer little hope an end is near.

Housing Bust Continues

The tragedy of suburbia
Topic: Home and Garden 2:58 pm EDT, May 18, 2008

In James Howard Kunstler's view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about.

The tragedy of suburbia

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